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Monday, March 18,2013

'Reverse Robin Hood'

Snyder’s achievement-based funding plan could hurt poorer school districts

by Nyssa Rabinowitz

Thursday, Dec. 22 — Gov. Rick Snyder’s proposal to link school funding with student achievement could be disastrous for already under-funded districts, says an executive of the Michigan Association of School Boards.

“I don’t think there’s mal-intent to the plan to pay for performance, I just think it might be counter-productive,” said Peter Spadafore, assistant director of government relations. Spadafore was also elected in November to the Lansing Board of Education, where he will have to deal with the difficulties of school funding for a struggling district first hand.

Spadafore.JPGSnyder’s plan, reported Tuesday by The Associated Press, has yet to identify how to reward student achievement with funding, but Spadafore has concerns that poor districts like Lansing could continue to face hardships while richer districts with more resources are rewarded with more funding.

“It’s sort of like the reverse Robin Hood,” Spadafore said, “taking the money from the districts of the have-nots and putting it into the coffers of the haves.”

Many of the state’s poorest districts made drastic cuts to balance their budgets in lieu of state funding such as increasing the number of children in a classroom, cutting teachers and eliminating specialized programs, Spadafore said. These decisions could have a negative effect on student learning and student achievement could fall further.

“The school buildings and the school districts on the lower achieving list arguably need some further assistance,” Spadafore said. “Under this plan, it doesn’t sound like those would be targeted for further assistance.”

That could mean more cuts for poor districts such as Lansing’s if funding levels remain at current levels, he said.

“If Lansing was expecting an increase in state aid for this year but that money is going to a specialized program, that money won’t go to the district,” Spadafore said. “It means that the cuts from last year, which were huge from the state, we’re going to have to continue to deal with those at a local level.”

Snyder’s ideas could translate into positive strategies to promote improvement, Spadafore said, but tying funding to student achievement is unique.

“When you look at mostly performance funding, you talk about it at the teacher level or the building level,” he said.

Public school funding has normally been on a per pupil basis, where each district receives a certain amount of money based on how many students are enrolled, Spadafore said. Historically, achievement levels have not factored into funding.

But Spadafore’s concerns could be misplaced, he admitted.

“If we’re going to say only those that are doing well right now get additional funding, that’s counter-productive,” he said. “But if you’re looking at ways to award progress, that could be worth exploring.”

Despite the plan’s potential, Spadafore said the lack of research on student achievement based funding systems gives him more concerns than hope.

“We have a lot of folks trying ideas that are not based in research,” Spadafore said. “We never know what the impact is going to be.”

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